Water safety is part of water quality management. While most water is used in irrigation and it does need to be sufficiently pure, there are stricter standards for drinking water. Irrigation water just requires there to be low salinity, low algae content and low heavy metal concentration. Drinking water has addition requirements to make it safe to drink.
Every human needs a couple of litres of water to drink every day and we also need another couple of dozen litres for bathing and washing. We also use water to clean our cooking utensils, bowls, plates and dishes, as well as cleaning our floors, eating surfaces and cars. All of these require relatively pure water that is not found in nature very often.
To drink water, we must ensure that the water is not contaminated with bacteria, viruses and parasites that will cause disease. We take it for granted in developed countries that we will not get sick from drinking tap water, but for billions of the world’s poor, water is not safe to drink and they often lack plumbing.
To get water into your tap, we take water from relatively clean freshwater sources. These are often from reservoirs and rivers near the towns and cities where people live. These water sources are kept clean by the local government and managed for algae and other containments. If containments do make their way into water sources for drinking, the government will spread news of any problems and offer suggestions, such as boiling water before drinking it.
Before the water enters pipes to be distributed to households, the water needs to be purified. This is first done by filtering the water. Large filters start off at the beginning of the process and make their way down to smaller filters such as activated carbon.
Then sometimes other chemicals are added to neutralize any potential diseases in the water. These chemicals include chlorine similar to pool chlorine. Some water utilities will add fluorine for dental health.
Comparison to the Developing World
In comparison to the developed world, developing countries often lack the infrastructure to store, filter, purify and distribute water. Many people still drink water directly from rivers and wells. This is not good for sanitation because there are many potential diseases you can catch from these sources.
As well as making sure we purify drinking water, sewerage must be disposed of to not interfere with the processes we undertake to purify drinking water. Proper disposal of sewerage makes everyone’s job easier.
In the developing world, sewerage is not disposed of properly and it often left in streets and gutters where it is washed back into water sources for drinking water. In this way the diseases enter a loop where someone gets sick and then the disease is transmitted from their sewerage back into everyone’s drinking water.
The World Health Organization goes into this in depth on their website.
Physical Water Safety
Another overlooked water safety topic is ensuring citizens don’t accidentally drown. We need to ensure that dams are properly fenced to prevent accidental drownings. Also dam walls need to be protected from anyone climbing on them and falling off.
In developed countries we have our plumbing underground or out of site in buildings. This ensures we don’t accidentally trip on plumbing. In developing countries, they need to ensure they follow similar safety standards to prevent injuries.
There are many topics in water safety and we need to ensure the world has access to safe drinking water. It’s out number one mission because without safe drinking water, we are nothing.